Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Review - S 576 Introduced – Hazmat Trains

Earlier this month, as a response to the derailment of freight train in East Palestine, OH, Sen Brown (D,OH) and Sen Vance (R,OH) introduced S 576, the Railway Safety Act of 2023. The bill provides a variety of potential improvements for the shipment of hazardous materials by rail. Various funds are authorized to support some of the program proposed.

Programs and policies mentioned in the bill include:

Safety requirements for trains transporting hazardous materials.
Rail car inspections.
Defect detectors.
Safe Freight Act of 2023(minimum crew size).
Increasing maximum civil penalties for violations of rail safety regulations.
Safer tank cars.
Hazardous materials training for first responders.
Rail safety infrastructure research and development grants.
Appropriations for tank car research and development.

Moving Forward

While Brown is not a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to which this bill was assigned for consideration, Vance is. This means that there could be sufficient influence to see this bill considered by Committee. There is a great deal of political pressure to ‘do something’ to prevent recurrences of the East Palestine derailment, but there is still some major Republican opposition to increased regulation and government spending. There will have to be some behind the scene negotiations on modifications to this bill to get to legislation that would allow the Committee and then the Senate to move forward.


The new hazmat train requirements of §3 of the bill looks like it may have the unintended consequence of encouraging railroads to limit the transport hazmat railcars to hazmat trains that would fall under the definition of a highly hazardous flammable train (HHFT) under 49 USC 174.310. Under the proposed rules, it looks like there could be tighter restrictions on non-HHFT hazmat trains, so it would provide railroads with an incentive to concentrate hazmat shipments in HHFT’s. This might reduce the number of trains carrying hazmat railcars, but it could increase the potential consequences of an accident in such a train.


For more details about the provisions of this bill, see my article at CFSN Detailed Analysis - https://patrickcoyle.substack.com/p/s-576-introduced - subscription required.

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